Embracing change has always been a head-first challenge for businesses. But this year, the pressure to adapt was at an all-time high.
Quarantine, lockdowns, economic shutdowns, and remote work are just a few of the challenges communities faced in 2020. And as businesses embrace these monumental changes, we’re faced with the reality that this won’t be the last time we need to do so.
So the question remains: how can business leaders embrace change and adapt quickly – all while fueling future growth?
According to Jason Feifer – Editor-in-Chief at Entrepreneur magazine and a self-proclaimed champion of change – embracing change is the skill that every business leader needs. Because the sooner you embrace change and leverage what you learn, the better your businesses will be long-term.
Here are Jason’s top 5 strategies for embracing change:
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1. Acknowledge the evidence that change is good
“Remember that you are evidence that [whatever] comes next isn’t bad. Then, you can release yourself and become a part of the next chapter, shaping what comes next.”Jason Feifer, Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur magazine
Before any of us can embrace change, Jason says we must first acknowledge something about ourselves. Our very existence is evidence that change is good. Meaning, “change” is not necessarily synonymous with chaos and disaster.
“We are all products of change. And we are all from somebody else’s future,” Jason explained. “Our lifestyles, our habits, our interests, the technology we use, and the clothing we wear. All of it was new and scary to somebody who came before us.”
But today, we don’t think of ourselves as new or scary or filled with terrible things. “We think we are a collection of good things,” Jason noted.
In fact, we believe we’re so good that when change does come along – we resist it! That’s because we feel comfortable with what is, and we don’t want to change where we are. But by doing so, we’re cutting off space for something even better to come along.
By accepting that evidence against our resistance, embracing change becomes less intimidating, and adapting feels inspiring.
Take action: When change strikes, acknowledge the evidence that change can be good. Then, reassure yourself and your team that whatever comes next will prove to be better.
2. Look for the gain and help others see it too
Jason says the reason why people fear change (even when there’s evidence against it) is because the loss is much easier to see than the gain.
“Whenever change comes, you see the loss immediately,” he pointed out. But Jason explains that you can take the worst thing that you can think of in history, and without fail, something good has come from it.
For Jason, this was the bubonic plague. In the 1300s, it swept across Europe, killing nearly a third of Europe’s population. But at the time, lords owned the land and the serfs, and the serfs would work the land. It was slavery. But after the plague, there weren’t enough serfs to do all the lords’ work.
So, lords started asking serfs to come work for them. And with the increase in demand for labor, the serfs realized they could start asking for compensation – and would actually get it.
Thus, employment contracts started being used. And with it came the idea that work is worth something and the value should be paid to the person doing the work. AKA the foundation for our modern economy.
When things change within your business, Jason believes it’s up to the leadership team to point out the potential gain. “Otherwise, [employees are] going to default to the loss. And they’ll always extrapolate out from the loss,” he explained.
But resisting the urge to focus on losses, you make more room for gains. And as a result, you can inspire your entire team to embrace the change – furthering progress.
Take action: Lead by example and accept change with open arms. Meaning, immediately identify the potential gains and make sure your team sees them too.
3. Mix the old with the new to create something better
“We have an opportunity right now to take the best of the old and the best of the new to create something even stronger.”
When something new comes along, we fear it will replace or take away from what we already have. But that’s historically not the case.
“We have bicycles, and we have cars, we have radio, and we have television. We never like to wholesale replace. So, we always integrate,” Jason explained.
And that means owners are at a pivotal point in history. They can integrate the old normal with the new normal and make it even better. And that starts by reconsidering the impossible.
Jason told a story about a woman who runs a performing arts center in Georgia. Before the pandemic, she would run big classes because she thought it was the only way she could drive revenue for her business.
When the pandemic hit, it wasn’t safe to run big classes anymore. But the center also couldn’t afford to not offer any classes. So the woman was forced to run much smaller classes for the time being.
But what she found was that her students were happier, her teachers were less stressed, and her margins didn’t change. The smaller classes were easier to fill, so she no longer needed to spend anything on marketing.
So, she’s running a better business with smaller classes – which she knew was always an option, but she thought it was impossible.
Take action: When your business faces an overwhelming loss, remember that change ushers in moments of “can’t go back now.” Vocalize that to your team and work together to create a better outcome.
4. Consider ideas you’ve discarded or overlooked
We’ve all heard the saying before: If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. But Jason mostly disagrees when it comes to embracing change. He says as soon as you see change coming, it’s time to shift efforts.
“The second we see that something isn’t working as well as it could, or that growth isn’t the trajectory, we should see it as a long term problem,” Jason firmly stated. “And we need to address it now.’
But before taking action, you need to know how or where to strategically react to change. And that starts with evaluating your resources and coming up with a game plan.
In his experience, Jason has found that the best ideas are often the ones that are discarded or overlooked. And change offers an opportunity to bring them back into view.
So, look back at past meeting notes, circle back to what seemed like dead-end conversations, and see if anything stands out. Then, start testing what works before you absolutely need the solution.
“The future is not an optional thing, and change is going to come,” Jason explained. “Therefore, we have 2 options. We can sit around and wait for it to come and then scramble to respond. Or we can be extremely proactive.”
Take action: Pay close attention to the small changes in your business. As soon as something feels off, start testing new ideas that you may have excluded before.
5. Change before you must
“We need to take this moment, remember it, and next time be mindful that change is not optional.”
If an owner ignores changes and forgoes proactive solutions, it will eventually catch up to them. Then, they’ll be forced to change at some point. But by that time, it’s often too late.
Jason says a classic example is the Blockbuster bankruptcy. “Blockbuster knew that change was coming.” But rather than pivot their attention to building streaming infrastructure, they did nothing.
When the time came where change was the only option, “they just couldn’t do anything about it because they were structurally unable,” Jason explained. And eventually, their doors shut.
Rather than waiting around to see what comes, Jason suggests business owners estimate what will happen 5 to 10 years in the future if they don’t change.
“If the answer is I’m still on top because what we’re doing is going to continue to work for [whatever] reasons, keep going. But if you’re not going to be on top, then you need to make some kind of change,” he explained. “And that can be really hard, but you have to change before you must.”
Owners who want to fuel future growth cannot stay stagnant now. When faced with new landscapes, industry standards, or operating obstacles, they have to change before there is no other option. Otherwise, they may miss the opportunities where there are gains to be made.
Take action: Don’t be afraid to proactively pivot or restructure. If you know change is going to come, start changing now. Otherwise, you might miss out on opportunities to survive that change.